How to Break up a Fight


Let’s say you’re at the bar with a friend, having a fine time and minding your own damn business, when some bad-looking dude the size of a Mack truck decides he’s got a problem with your friend. Bad Dude comes at him with some stupid remark, your buddy snaps right back, and suddenly they’re this close to World War III.

What’s a Men’s Fitness man to do?

Before putting yourself between two hotheads, know that being a hero can get you seriously hurt, says Matan Gavish, the founder and chief instructor at Krav Maga Academy in New York City. That’s why you should only get involved if you care about one (or both) of the people involved.

“A ‘fight’ is usually a result of clashing egos,” says Gavish, who has trained combat experts ranging from Navy SEALS to the NYPD’s Tactical Training Unit. “There are usually plenty of opportunities to deescalate a situation before punches are thrown.”

First: Speak in an even, calm tone and relax your body language. (No need to escalate things further.) Try to defuse the situation by agreeing with him in any argument, and explain you’re getting your buddy out of there. “His ego makes him predictable and violent,” Gavish says. “Use it to your advantage.”

One easy fix? Offer to pick up Tough Guy’s tab. “That calms pretty much anybody down,” Gavish says.

If he stays on the warpath, signal to your buddy that it’s time to go. “You can be a little aggressive with your friend, which will help him save his dignity,” Gavish says. “Make it seem like he’s leaving as a favor to you, not because he’s afraid.”

And when you do manage to separate the guys, try to disengage them safely, without giving the hothead an excuse to attack. Never put your hands on him (unless you absolutely have to), and don’t turn your back as you walk away—that might have him seeing red all over again.

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If, despite your best efforts at diplomacy, these two knuckleheads start going in for the kill, you have a few precious seconds to break up the dogfight before it gets potentially deadly. Fists are one thing—steak knives, broken bottles, and chairs wielded with menace could get you killed. 

Regardless of how well trained you are, “the longer a fight takes, the more risk of injury you are facing,” Gavish says. A bunch of people could decide to gang up on you, a crowd might form and block an easy exit, or if things get really ugly, more bystanders could get hurt.

“If you are positive there is no calm way out, try to be the first to strike,” Gavish says. “Don’t waste any time hitting an aggressor’s midsection. Hit soft spots like eyes, nose, ears, jaw, throat, groin and knees.” [Disclaimer: Men’s Fitness does not condone violence!]

If this bad dude is trying to hurt somebody, hit him with the intention to end the violence as fast as possible.

But make no mistake: Even if you’re forced to throw a few fast punches at the guy, your objective isn’t fight—it’s flight. If all else fails, Gavish says, grab your buddy and get the hell out of there.

“Remove yourself from the center of violence as fast as possible,” Gavish says. “There is no shame in sprinting.”

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A wise warrior prefers to avoid fights in the first place. Gavish recommends a few key strategies for keeping an eye on your surroundings—and spotting trouble before it arrives.

Have an Exit Strategy: Any time you’re in a strange bar where you’re concerned things might get ugly, make sure you know all the exits—even the less obvious ones, like fire escapes or a back door through a kitchen. And sit facing the entrance, with your back to the wall. “You’ll be able to recognize trouble coming in and make yourself scarce before a fight ensues—and you can’t get sucker-punched or jumped from behind,” Gavish says.

Mind the Clientele: Booze can transform otherwise well-intentioned people into, well, the Hulk. (So if you do knock a few back, be smart about it.) Some guys will be looking for trouble—like the loud, obnoxious dude with the blank stare who’s shouldering strangers for no apparent reason. “Knowing where violence might come from is a huge advantage when deciding to engage,” Gavish says. Watch for it.

Get the Bouncers on Your Side: You shouldn’t need to play peacekeeper if there are bouncers around. Acknowledge their hard work and show them respect, because if things go south, that little bit of equity can go a long way in saving your skin. “You’ll be amazed how much power you have when the security team knows you’re the good guy,” Gavish says.

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